As tax season approaches, one of the most critical decisions you'll make is choosing the right tax preparer who can navigate the complex world of taxation while ensuring your financial well-being. Not all tax professionals are created equal and attention to detail is the largest quality to the accuracy of your tax preparer. To help you make an informed choice, we've compiled a guide on essential certifications and qualifications you should be looking for when finding and qualifying a tax preparer.
Anyone with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. To obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), individuals must go through a quick registration process with the IRS. However, the qualifications necessary to identify yourself as a tax preparer are very low and there are no educational requirements.
Based on demand and the ability to easily set up a business, many seasonal tax firms pop up around Florida. Seasonal tax preparers are often hired temporarily during tax season to handle the influx of returns. They may not always possess the necessary credentials, making them more susceptible to becoming ghost preparers. It's crucial for taxpayers to exercise caution when seeking assistance from such preparers. Even though some seasonal preparers may be legitimate and have the requisite skills, it's essential to verify their qualifications. You should ask for their PTIN, and ensure they are associated with a reputable tax preparation service or organization. Being diligent in your selection process can help you avoid the potential pitfalls associated with ghost preparers and ensure that your tax return is handled accurately and ethically.
Typically, looking for an accounting firm is a good way to avoid unqualified tax preparers. Each state also has their own requirements for marketing and the naming of an accounting firm. In Texas, the law does not allow you to identify as an Accountant in your name unless you hold a Certified Public Accountant License. In Florida, there are very few rules when starting an accounting firm and there are very few restrictions on what you can name a business. Thus, a person with no qualification can start an accounting firm tomorrow within Florida.
If you are specifically looking for a certified individual to perform your work. Looking for a business with “CPAs” within its name is important. CPA firms must have the majority of their ownership owned by a CPA. The reason why the “s” is so important is that it indicates multiple CPAs are involved within the ownership. Firms with multiple certified individuals perform better as the firm is less likely to rely on one person to make decisions. This increases the ability of the firm to prepare an accurate return and also typically reflects a larger amount of knowledge in the firm. If you do not require a CPA firm to perform your work, it is much harder to qualify a preparer for your tax return through the business’ name.
There are many important qualities to think about when choosing a tax preparer. The most important one is whether the preparer has the ability to defend their work in front of the IRS. You will find this quality important if you receive an IRS Audit letter in the future. If your preparer is not able to defend each step of an IRS Audit, you will need to involve additional individuals which may cost substantially more in your defense.
Enrolled Agents are tax experts licensed by the IRS. They must pass a three-part exam, demonstrating proficiency in federal tax planning, individual and business tax return preparation, and representation. EAs are required to complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years. Enrolled Agents are certified in Tax services which includes portions of accounting. The certification’s tests focus on tax compliance and tax return preparation for individuals and businesses. Typical services performed by Enrolled Agents include tax preparation, tax planning, IRS Representation, and many other tax related services.
CPAs are licensed by state boards of accountancy. They have passed the Uniform CPA Examination, which is a 4 part exam. CPAs have taken 150 hours of college credit, much of which must be high level accounting courses, and typically have a Bachelor’s degree. CPAs also must meet experience and ethical requirements and engage in ongoing continuing education to maintain their CPA license. The CPA license is intended to be the most broad and prestigious license in Accounting.
The Uniform CPA Examination is known to be one of the hardest exams to pass. By identifying a CPA as your preferred tax preparer certification, you are guaranteeing a well-rounded accountant is preparing your return. Each part of the 4 part exam has a pass rate around 50% along with an average study period of over 12 months. Therefore, utilizing a CPA for your tax preparation is considered to be the safest option if you are qualifying a tax preparer by their certification.
In regards to tax preparation, not every CPA has the knowledge to perform tax preparation well. Qualifying that the CPA has a focus on tax preparation and tax strategies is a good idea when looking for a tax preparer. Typical services performed by a CPA include all tax services, accounting services, advisory and audit services, along with almost every other service in accounting. Just keep in mind that CPAs should not identify as being good at all services and typically have a specialization such as tax return preparation.
Attorneys are licensed by state courts or their designees, such as the state bar. They have earned a degree in law and passed a bar exam. Attorneys are held to high ethical standards and must participate in ongoing continuing education. Most attorneys performing tax preparation are tax attorneys. Tax attorneys typically have extensive and specialized knowledge in accounting and tax.
Tax preparers without the above-mentioned credentials, have limited practice rights. They can only represent clients before specific IRS employees but not in appeals or collection issues. These preparers include:
To assist taxpayers in determining the credentials and qualifications of tax professionals, the IRS maintains a public directory. This searchable database includes the names, locations, and credentials of attorneys, CPAs, enrolled agents, enrolled retirement plan agents, and enrolled actuaries with valid PTINs, as well as Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion recipients for the current tax year.
It is crucial to ensure that your tax preparer holds the necessary credentials and qualifications to handle your financial affairs effectively. For this reason, always verify that your tax preparer has an IRS-issued PTIN, which is required by law for anyone who prepares tax returns for compensation. When selecting a tax professional, inquire about their education, training, and experience to make an informed choice. Your financial well-being depends on it, so choose wisely and with confidence.